25,000 convict women were forcibly shipped from London and Dublin to the British Empire’s penal colony of Tasmania between 1788 and 1868. 98% were nonviolent offenders. Their crimes? Pilfering a bucket of milk, a bread basket, or warm stockings. Their punishment? A four-month journey on a prison ship, years incarcerated as virtual slaves at workhouses like Cascades Female Factory, and a lifetime of exile in a foreign land where convict men outnumbered women nine to one. Deborah J. Swiss collects the true stories of four of these remarkably resilient women in The Tin Ticket: The Heroic Journey of Australia’s Convict Women (Berkley, October 2010).
Swiss, a management consultant and author with a specialty in women’s history and gender equity, uncovered the hidden stories of the destitute women and children who were targeted and arrested for petty thievery in order to become “tamers and breeders” for the convict men in Australia. Each woman was identified with a tiny tin ticket hung from their necks with red ribbon. The Tin Ticket takes us into the lives of #151, #1231, #253, and #284: Ludlow Tedder, Bridget Mulligan, twelve-year-old Agnes McMillan, and thirteen-year-old Janet Houston. The book also takes us into the heart of Quaker reformer Elizabeth Fry, who compassionately taught the women how to sew while they awaited transport and set up a prison school for their children.
Together, these women created a hopeful future for themselves and their descendants by never losing their passionate and almost rebellious willpower. Swiss remarks that once freed, “by sheer force of will… women who were banished from their home country saved a new colony from collapse, accelerated social change, and were among the first in the world to gain the right to vote and to own property.” 22% of Australians today are the proud descendants of the intrepid women who wore the tin ticket.
Australians, the Ambassador of Ireland, and women’s organizations have showered praise on Swiss’ work. In Birute Regine’s words, “Swiss eloquently and engagingly uncovers a buried and important piece of Australian ‘herstory’ [and] skillfully illuminates their essence in their extraordinary resilience, determination, and courage. An inspiration to all.”
The Tin Ticket is a heartfelt complement to Swiss’ previous insightful books. Women and the Work/Family Dilemma, Women Breaking Through, and The Male Mind at Work contain strategies for strong, individual women succeeding in the workplace. Swiss’ work has received attention in Time, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, and The Federal Glass Ceiling Commission Report. She has appeared on The Today Show as a gender issues expert and has spoken at prestigious women’s business conferences. She earned her B.A. at Bowdoin College and her Ed.M. and Ed.D. at Harvard University. She can be found at http://www.deborahswiss.com/.
Ultimately, she writes, “The women who wore the tin ticket inspire me every day and make me proud to be a woman. I hope that you, too, enjoy meeting them.”
Swiss (second from right) with her book in Reykjavik, IcelandView all authors